SATA drives may look like fast parallel ATA drives to applications, but they differ in some significant details. When installing or troubleshooting SATA drives, use the following checklist to guide you through the process.
Narrowing down the problem with your SATA drive
Like any other kind of troubleshooting, a methodical approach is best for finding problems with SATA drives. In the case of any hard drive, the best method is to start with the power connection and work your way up through the hardware and operating system.
- Does the power light come on? Make sure the computer is plugged in and listen for the power supply fan.
- Does the drive spin up? Listen for the sound of the drive spinning and the head moving across the tracks. If the drive is not spinning, double-check the power and interface cables.
- Does the computer see the drive? Make sure the drive is recognized by the BIOS. If it isn't, use the system's setup program to run the auto detect option. If the system still can't find the drive, make sure you have the latest version of the controller firmware and computer BIOS. If the system still can't find the drive, there's an excellent chance the drive is defective. Try installing it in a different computer, using a different controller (if not on the motherboard) to check it out.
- Does FDISK recognize the drive? Use the FDISK/STATUS command to check that the operating system can find the drive. Again, the usual fix is to update the BIOS and firmware.
- Does ScanDisk show problems? Use ScanDisk to check the drive for bad sectors and other problems that may interfere with its operation.
- Run system diagnostics. Most hard drive makers have diagnostics packages that can be downloaded from their Web sites. They can help diagnose problems with specific makes of drives.
- Have the appropriate cables on hand. SATA drives usually come without interface cables. Also, remember that a SATA interface cable shouldn't be any longer than one meter (39 inches).
- Make sure the power connector is properly connected. SATA drives use a unique type of power connector, although some SATA drives will also accept an ATA-style connector.
- Check that each drive is properly connected to the controller. SATA drives don't "daisy chain" and each one needs a separate data connection to the controller. Make sure the connectors are clean and tight.
- Don't mess with the jumpers. Unlike ATA and SCSI drives, SATA drives don't need to be terminated or otherwise set with the on-drive jumpers for ordinary operation. The jumpers on a SATA drive, if any, enable other functions, such as advanced power management. They are usually fine as is from the factory. If you need to enable the SATA drive's special features, make sure you read and understand any documentation before changing the jumper settings.
- Make sure you have the latest revision of the drive BIOS. SATA drives are still new enough that manufacturers are cleaning up issues with each BIOS revision.
- Don't worry if the system thinks your new drive is SCSI. Some operating systems report SATA drives as SCSI. This will not have any affect on your computer.
- Some users have reported that turning off the drive's cache makes the drive more stable, preventing read and write errors.
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About the author: Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80 K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last 20 years, he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.